WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Karl Rove, who masterminded President George W. Bush’s two White House victories but was slammed by opponents as a divisive figure in U.S. politics, said on Monday he was resigning and heading home to Texas.
The strategist, known to supporters as “The Architect” for guiding Bush from the Texas governorship to the presidency, but derided by critics as “Bush’s brain,” is the latest aide to quit as the clock ticks down on Bush’s second term.
Rove’s departure could leave Bush increasingly isolated as he tries to salvage his final 17 months in office with low approval ratings, a crippled domestic agenda and an unpopular war in Iraq, analysts said.
Bush praised Rove, his deputy chief of staff, for making “enormous sacrifices” for the country, but critics said he helped create a climate of bitter divisiveness and remained under suspicion for his role in administration scandals.
Rove headed out with Bush to a two-week Texas vacation, telling reporters that he wanted to spend more time with his family and that recent investigations and congressional scrutiny had not figured into his decision.
Asked if he was replaceable, Rove said, “Absolutely.” He said he had no plans to take part in the 2008 presidential race, though he might be willing to offer advice informally.
His last day at the White House is August 31, and there was no word on a possible successor.
Bush heralded his friend of 34 years and said they would remain close, telling Rove, “I’ll be on the road behind you here in a little bit.”
Rove’s departure marks the end of a close collaboration between Bush and his senior adviser, who won respect from admirers for his command of political machinery and his drive for an enduring Republican dominance of government.
Rove, 56, who made harnessing the votes of conservative Christians a key strategy, helped Republicans expand their majorities in Congress after Bush won the White House in a contested 2000 election. But the two suffered a major setback in 2006 when Democrats regained control of Congress.
“Yeah, I got the math wrong, but it was a close call,” Rove told reporters aboard the Air Force One presidential jet.
His departure could further undermine Bush’s chances of advancing his agenda before his term ends in January 2009. Some critics point to the protracted Iraq war and failures to reform Social Security and immigration as part of Rove’s legacy.
“Goodbye, good riddance,” said former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the Democrats’ 2004 vice presidential candidate who is now vying for the presidential nomination.
Rove has been a controversial figure. A special prosecutor investigated him on allegations of leaking covert CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity in a scandal linked to the Iraq war, but he was never charged and Bush gave him unbending support.
Democrats in Congress have also had Rove in their sights as they look into why nine U.S. prosecutors were fired. The Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed him over the issue, but Bush cited executive privilege to reject it.
Rove predicted more subpoenas, saying “I’m Moby Dick” and several Democrats were trying to play Captain Ahab, but insisted he would remain protected by executive privilege.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a Vermont Democrat, said, “a cloud envelopes Mr. Rove, even as he leaves the White House.”
Rove’s departure leaves a few senior advisers who have been with Bush since he took office.
Bush’s approval ratings have sunk below 30 percent in some polls, but Rove predicted his popularity would rise again.
Rove said he first broached the subject of his resignation with Bush more than a year ago but that they always found reasons to put it off.
He bristled when asked about being characterized as “Bush’s brain,” saying the idea that Bush needed someone to tell him what to think was “incredibly demeaning and really stupid.”
Rove plans to write a book but is otherwise unsure what he will do. “I need to make some money,” he said. He and his wife have a home in Ingram and a son in college in San Antonio.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Waco, Texas, and John O'Callaghan